So, first off, I haven’t blogged in eons now. It’s a rather hard task balancing between work and academics, let alone blogging. Regardless, I’ve been trying to put together something talking about my life in Baghdad and how I ended up being an “exile.” So until then…
Recently, two weeks ago specifically, I started reading Deborah Amos’s “Eclipse of the Sunnis.” This book has been one of the best books I’ve read this year. I recall shedding a tear reading the first 10 pages. It talks about post-war Iraq, the large refugee crisis that followed, and the spill of Iraq’s war into the region. It focuses more on the geopolitical transformations and security vacuum followed the US-backed invasion, than talking about the refugee crisis itself. She definitely uses personal anecdotes from Iraqi exiles in Damascus, Jordan, Sweden, and London, raising questions about the future and quality of life of these exiles, as well as, implications in shaping Iraqi’s nationstate.
Here, I will be quoting Amos because her book portrays Iraq almost vividly. The following quotes explain not only things I lived through and managed to survive, but also they detail daily lives of millions of Iraqis at home today…
So let’s start with what is Iraq? When exiles reminisce about good ole days of Iraq, we usually compare today to pre-war Iraq. But was pre-war Iraq a good Iraq to start with? Were we actually unified as a nation under Saddam Hussain? Paying loyalties to Iraq, serving the country, and its people for the common good? Or were we simply scared to say no to authority. Were we secretly hating each other, and loyal to our own sect and/or religious cult? Did Iraqis live a lie that they all loved each other and shared the belief that Saddam sucked, but they had to submit to the one and only secular, nationalist, pan-Arab Saddam?
“Syria and Iraq..long the rival [cities] in Islamic history, and geopolitical rivals in modern times, are consumed with the questions of identity. In one, a Baathist state had tightened its grip on power; in the other, it had been blown away, opening a vacuum into which the politics of rival identities had flowed with catastrophic results. For Iraq, the forces that divided the country after 2003 were far stronger than the history that had unified the people. Banditry and breakdown in Iraq had led to mass exodus and internal displacement. In 2009, the unanswered question ‘What is Iraq?’ discomforted Arab neighbors and kept the exiles from returning. They were still unwilling to bet their lives and the future on their homeland until they were sure of the answer.”
When I was in Syria, I was planning on studying abroad – as in outside the Middle East. 1) I couldn’t go back to Iraq, not only because it was risky, but also because I didn’t have a house to go back to; 2) There was no country in the Arab world that would grant me visa simply because I was Iraqi; 3) The Syrian government – so as other Arab countries – treated Iraqis as tourists (ineligible to work) and as international students when they decided to enroll in college. This meant that I had to pay somewhere between 200-250% more than a domestic Syrian student had to pay- something unrealistic at the time.
“We have learned over time that Iraqis have lost hope. They don’t believe in a future any longer. They have become survivors.”
Finally, this quote describes what I lived through. From constant fear of getting kidnapped (myself of members of the family), being unlucky enough to have a bomb go off in my vicinity, have my car/house stolen, or simply get attacked by armed men, at a fake security checkpoint because my name suggest I belong to a specific sect of Islam. As the above quote suggested, I was surviving in Iraq.
“By 2009, [Iraq] was ranked as the most corrupt country in the Arab world, and the fourth most corrupt among all nations… Baghdad had developed into a kleptocracy that rivaled Nigeria… Iraq [is] still a place of militias and unemployment, with intermittent bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations. [The] medical care remained far below pre-war standards. Electricity and water supplies were undependable at best. The capital was a cantonized city controlled by armed guards at checkpoints. The sectarian police force was deeply corrupt. There was no longer such a thing as a Baghdadi – just Sunni or Shiites. An Iraqi could still be the wrong kind of Muslim for a particular neighborhood.”
I still remember that one time when I was on the bus returning to Baghdad when an Iraqi border officer got on the bus and asked me to get off the bus… My life flashed back before my eyes!
One final note, please do not pity me. I’m a strongly motivated, determined man who has acquired survival skills to let him turn negative feelings into positive ones. I appreciate everything I’ve been through!